To mark 2017, The Sunday Express meets 17-year-olds across the country touched by the big events of 2016 — to listen to their questions as they begin their first year of adulthood.
“No money today either,” says Divyesh Solanki as he walks home with his mother and sister after a day spent sorting and packing freshly harvested onion bulbs. They are hired for Rs 160 a day, and for the last three days, haven’t been paid their money. “The farmer has asked me to come back tomorrow,” says Divyesh. He doesn’t know what else he could do for a living, he says. He knows what he “won’t do”, however. “Until a few months ago, almost every male member in our extended family and community skinned cows for a living. I never learnt to do it and even if I did, after what happened to members of our community, I can’t imagine doing it either.”
Divyesh’s village Mota Samadhiyala was the epicentre of Dalit unrest in Gujarat after seven men from the village were flogged on July 11 by a group of ‘gau rakshaks’ for skinning a cow carcass. Divyesh says he is a “distant cousin” of Vashram and Ramesh Sarvaiya, the two brothers who were among the seven attacked by gau rakshaks on July 11. The third of five siblings, Divyesh dropped out of school after his Class 9 to help his parents, he says. Apart from working in the farm, he works as a nightwatchman at an upper caste villager’s farm for Rs 300 a night.
Divyesh’s father Govind Sarvaiya cultivates fodder on one bigha of government land. The six-member family lives in a single-room house in the village’s Dalit quarter. Divyesh, who turns 18 in March, says the July 11 incident has left him bitter. “We respect the cow as much as anybody else does. We never kill a cow; only skin dead ones. Yet, we are victimised. I wonder if this will ever change,” he says.
Talking about the discrimination they live with, Divyesh adds, “Even while we work on others’ fields, we have to bring our own utensils from home for food and tea. We are made to sit at a distance during lunch. Why should I stay a Hindu? Maybe I will convert to Buddhism next year,” says the Virat Kohli fan. Divyesh hopes to be a policeman some day. “The job will earn me respect and a salary. But for that, I need to clear Class 10. I have applied as an external student and will take the exam in March,” says Divyesh.